A Slight Frustration- Libraries and the ‘Net

I’ve been working on redesign of our library website.  Now I’m not a professional…at all and nearly everything I’ve learned about web design is stuff I’ve picked within the last year so take whatever I have to say with a (very minuscule) grain of salt.  I’ve gone from a straight HTML design to xhtml to PHP (which is where I’m staying dammit!) all three enhanced and spiced up via CSS.  Now one of the main tenets of CSS is the obligatory “Tables are Bad!”  At least from a design perspective.  Tables are to house data/information and SHOULD NOT be used in the LAYOUT of a web page.  Which is where CSS comes in.  Admittedly designing a layout via CSS that is accessible and (nigh) identical across a variety of browsers IS a bit of an uphill battle but the payoff, especially in terms of code simplicity,  is absolutely worth it.

In order to fuel my erstwhile designing I’ve been visiting a number of (mostly local) library websites in order to get a feel not only for how they have their websites laid out but for how they handle their coding as well.  Unfortunately what I’ve noticed is an increasing divide between current Web Design (from the professional world) and Web Design (in the library world).

Take a look at Princeton Public Library’s web page. I admit their design is attractive but a glance at their code reveals that, while readable, it lacks in some areas.  Most of the major content is delivered via tables, contains a fair amount of inline styling (again with the tables in particular), and a uses bunch of repeated code (header and footer).  Even if you didn’t want to use CSS for layout you could move the inline table styling to a style sheet (especially since most of the tables are contained in a div with a unique id).  Furthermore switching to PHP would allow a simple include once call for both the header and the footer leaving only the major content of each page.  I simplify of course, it is probably slightly more complicated than that, but designing an elegantly coded well designed page is within reach.

In terms of content PPL is a great example, I’ve seen some truly disgusting designs out there, and melding design with content, especially for libraries in this age of integrated services, isn’t exactly an easy task but that doesn’t mean that current web design practices and standards are inapplicable to libraries.  I’ve developed almost a perverse habit of running library websites through the W3C Validation service and have been almost universally disappointed with the results.  I suppose I’d have more to complain about if the choice in coding actually interfered in the operation of the web pages in question, as of now it doesn’t, but I still find it a little depressing that, if not out right ignored, current Web standards seems to be such a low priority for library web pages.

There is more I could say on this, but I’m already rambling and I have a stack of magazines that need to be checked in and shelved, so maybe more later.

Also if anyone knows of any literature, from either side of the information world (web designers/analysts, librarians, etc.) that discuss this please feel free to point in that direction.

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Last Weeks Best- Comics 1/23

I’m only going to to a Top 3 picks from last week’s releases. I missed out this week (some great comics too, dammit) but hopefully get to the store tonight or tomorrow.

The Order #7
Consistently one my favorite books from the house of ideas, The Order, follows a group of heroes chosen to be the “face” of the Initiative. Lead by former-actor turned hero Henry Hellrung the team has to deal with public scandals, super-villains, and micro-management from Shield Director Tony Stark. To make matters worse this issue Namor is holding the city hostage with a tidal wave; with the few operative member of the team dealing with crowd control Henry has to deal with the zealous and ever-pissy leader of Atlantis. Light on action but with great tension-building dialogue you really feel for Henry as the “inexperienced hero” has to take on a situation most veteran heroes would cringe at. I won’t spoil anything but Henry was already one of my favorite characters before this issue and his actions here only cement that opinion. I was a little disappointed that the Supernaut and Aralune storyline was nowhere to be found but hopefully we’ll get some resolution on that end next issue. Not a great jumping on point but a solid, well-crafted issue none-the-less.
Astonishing X-Men #24
As if Messiah Complex wasn’t enjoyable enough fans of the X get the ever-talented Joss Whedon penning his penultimate issue on this (out of continuity?) X-book. Whedon has a fine tuned sense of dialogue and relationship between the characters of this team (to elements any Whedonite should know about from his TV work) and if you look fondly on the X-men of old you really should be reading this title. Cassiday on the pencils is a master and I can only hope to see his work more widespread once he’s done here. I must admit I can’t think of any other writer who could pull off a story about angry aliens launching a giant bullet at Earth. Quality book that should be on any superhero fan’s pull list.
Jack Staff Special
Image Comics have really carved out a niche for themselves. Moving from their creator owned, larger than life, superheroics of the 90s they have performed quiet a coup in publishing smaller independent titles and throwback action superheroes. Jack Staff is a comic I’ve always wanted to get into and now that it’s going monthly I’ll have that chance; thanks to the fine folks at Image. This special gives a sampling of the titular hero and his assorted recurring characters and does a great job whetting one’s appetite for more. Kudos Image.

Rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated….

I’m not dead, just busy.  Between getting the new computer up and running and a sudden shift in responsibilities at work (had someone go out on maternity leave early) I’ve been playing a bit of catch up.  Things are settling down somewhat, though I have a busy weekend coming up.  At the very least I’ll have last week’s top 3 comic picks up later…if not immediately after I get done posting this message.

Upcoming Posts

It was a light week I know, but things have been busy at work, and I got a little behind in my posting.  I have some stuff planned that will go up in the next 2 days or so.  It may include any of the following:

  • War Machine review
  • Cloverfield review
  • Pull List
  • Messiah Complex Review
  • Comments on D&D 4e

So keep your eyes open and I promise hope that I won’t lapse again in the following weeks.

An Odyssey Begun….

Well I’ve ordered the “first half” of my new computer. Ordered the following components:

Cooler Master Stacker RC-832
A big roomy full tower case with plenty of room for expansion
ASUS Maximus Formula
Using the X38 North Bridge, PCIe x16 2.0, DDR2. Solid looking board.
Seagate Barracuda 750GB HD (OEM)
Went OEM for the HD. Solid company. Massive Capacity.
Mushkin DDR2 800 2x (2gb)
DDR2 is still cheap as hell, got me four gigs on 2 sticks.
Intel Core 2 Duo E8400
Intel’s newest chip under the Wolfdale name. Small, cool, fast. Almost went with quad-core but I think I can wait a bit, until more software takes advantage of 4 cores.

I plan on ordering the rest (video card, optical drive, OS, and power supply) in about a week (I get paid next Wednesday). Now I only hope I put this shit together without having anything explode or catch on fire.

Insurmountable Frustration

<rant>

So, given that it was crazy cold last night, I decided that rather than go out with friends I would stay home and play Half-Life 2 Episode 2.  I had put in some time on it this weekend and was fairly certain I’d be able to put it to bed, so to speak, relatively easily last night.

It seems I was wrong.

<Tangent>

Being an old-school PC jockey I find that I hate console controllers.  No matter how much I play with them they never come close (not counting the Wiimote) to the precision and functionality of the mice/keyboard combo (with a G5 laser mouse with a resolution of 2000 dpi this is doubly so).   The Orange Box on 360 has been even more an issue; not only because of some layout issues, but because of several precision-requisite events.

The button layout is well done; save for the god-damned thumb stick buttons.  I don’t know how many times I’ve crouched/zoomed/called for a medic (TF2) when I didn’t want actually mean too.   There are two main “precision-requistie” scenes.  In Episode 1, we had the falling debris elevator scene  which, as far as I can tell, I sucked at because my spastic hands can’t aim for shit.

</Tangent>

Then there is the big strider fight in Episode 2.

Here is where my controller nearly went through the wall.  Using the gravity gun you have to launch “sticky” mines at oncoming Striders.  Simple enough.  Wait.  You also have to dodge Hunters who love shooting the damn mines before you can even launch them. What? The mine dispensers are spread out all over the map and you have to destroy the Striders before they reach the main camp?  F*** you Valve! A mission like this just isn’t fun.  I might be more forgiving if this had come around the midpoint of the game, but this close to the end, when you can almost taste the endgame, is just a f***ing pain.

Will I beat it?  Eventually.  Will I pick up Episode 3?  Yes, I love the characters in this game.  I love the story in this game.  I just wish, and here is the key issue I have with where I am right now, that gameplay elements wouldn’t get in the way of my enjoyment of the story.  A level like this takes me out of the story and makes playing the game a chore rather than the experience it should be.  The lack of synergy between story and gameplay just flat out leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

</rant>

Review: Shadowstorm, Paul S. Kemp

Shadowstorm

Title: Shadowstorm (The Twilight War Book 2)
Author: Paul S. Kemp
Wizards of the Coast, 2007

I almost wish I hadn’t read this book. Almost, since I have to wait until September for Book 3. I hate to keep comparing Kemp’s work to other authors writing in the Realms…so I won’t. Instead I’ll say that the dark, bleak corner of Forgetton Realms carved out by Kemp reminds in tone and style of Glen Cook’s Black Company series. This is to his credit of course but Kemp has a voice all his own.  His easy managment of multiple perspectives, deft use of both 3rd and 1st person, and fascinating characters lets him stand nose to nose with some of the best fantasy writers out there.

My favorite character this time around was Abelar. His part in this story is almost a timeless one of keeping faith even in the darkest of time; but no less powerful fbecause of that. I don’t want to spoil things for anyone but I really felt for him and had a blast reading his sections. The plot gets more twisty here and, like The Empire Strikes Back, this is a novel much darker tone than the previous novel but lacks even the faint note of hope that ESB ends with. A fantastic second novel that is, in my opinion, better than the first.

Mr. Kemp I only hope that one day you found your own little corner of the fantasy universe because, as much as I do love the Forgotten Realms (and I really do), I’m anxious to see what you will do with a world wholly your own. Kudos, sir.

BTW: I noticed a link on amazon.com to a site called Four Bit Stories and I just have to say that you had me at Lovecraft. Impressions later.

Terminator: Sarah Conner Chronicles, Pilot

I won’t lie. This post will, more than likely, turn out to be a fanboy love letter to Summer Glau. I admit it was a bit jarring seeing her in a non-crazy role, as both River Tam (Firefly) and her character from the 4400 were both bat-shit insane but she carries this transformation with skill Of all the characters in the show Summer’s Terminator seemed the most interesting. Which, given that the show should really be about the relationship between to John and Sarah (and John’s rise to Christian Bale-esque badassery), doesn’t speak much in the show’s favor. However, there is room for improvement, Thomas Dekker (“John Conner”), at least seems like he could make a decent John Conner; if he stops his whining. Lean Headwy is far too pretty to be Sarah Conner and lacks the edge that Linda Hamilton had in T2.

<Spoiler Warning>

Anyway the basic premise: It’s 1999 and Sarah is living in near domestic bliss when some nightmares make her get all antsy. She and John hit the road. Sarah’s fiancee goes to the cops. Oops, this alerts not only the FBI but a rather generic stone-jawed Terminator. Meanwhile, in New Mexico, John is starting in his new school where he meets an overly curious cutie (Summer Glau). On day two a substitute teacher shows and, in perhaps the most idiotic move ever, rips a gun out of his thigh and tries to shoot John. John makes his escape and things go pretty much as you expect from there. We get our trio on the run with the cute-as-a-button Terminator where they meet up with old friends the Dekker family. From there they head to bank vault where they assemble a lightning gun (**shrug**), fry the evil robot guy, and time jump to 2007.

</Spoiler warning>

The pilot was a solid sci-fi outing with only few “WTF were they thinking” moments (re: lightning gun) and, at the least, was something fresh amidst a stagnant sea of re-runs. Things could get better and the initial mystery of the show, who ends up creating SkyNet with Miles Dekker being all dead, should hold long-time Terminator fans interest enough. I found the following exchange interesting:

John: What model are you? You seem…different.

Summer: **eats a potato chip** I am different.

As I said earlier, I won’t lie and say that my mind didn’t immediately race down corridors only the finest of japanese animated films could conjure, but it was an interesting comment as the slighter build of Summer seems curiously inadequete for the whole Terminate function that their name implies. Regardless of how things turn out I’ll be happy to tune in for a weekly dose of Summer.

Edit:  Sorry about the formatting mistake earlier.  Every once and a while worpdress decides it wants extra long lines.  Grrrr….  All better now though.